When Manchester United splashed out an initial £40 million on Chelsea and Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic on the back end of July, a few eyebrows were raised by people both in and out of the game.
Spending that much on a player that was deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea and not forgetting how disappointing he was in Jose Mourinho’s disastrous final season in charge at Stamford Bridge, this reaction was understandable.
However, ever since the days of legendary midfield duo Paul Scholes and Roy Keane, Manchester United have missed that dominant charismatic midfield presence.
It is, of course, very early days in his Manchester United career, but the way Matic has gone about his business so professionally by putting in commanding dominating performances week in week out, he has gone a long way to silencing his critics.
More importantly, he has filled in that defensive midfield role that for so many years proved a major hindrance, particularly when playing against their major Premier League rivals.
Michael Carrick when played in that role he often used to sit in a deeper central midfield defensive role, however at 36-years-old, this could be his final season at Old Trafford. A remarkable servant as he is, he, like every player when they come to that stage of their careers need replacing.
In reality, when you spend so much on one player, you need to be able to get the best out of him. Matic has already gone a long way in justifying his transfer fee, accumulating over 30 appearances so far this season in all competitions.
Although he hasn’t been a prolific scorer for his club, he has contributed significantly to the overall improved stability, domestically and in Europe this season.
And this shouldn’t surprise anyone, considering the wealth of credentials he brings with him. Being a tall physical presence and having a commanding stature, Matic is able to win many aerial duels in the air.
His composure on the ball is next to none, and at his best is often able to dictate play and control the overall tempo of a match.
Current Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has since admitted Matic’s departure is a “great loss” a view that can be shared by former Chelsea player and assistant manager Ray Wilkins who stated:
It’s the worst I’ve ever seen, if I can say. I cannot see that for the life of me, you’ve got a guy here who was so paramount to Chelsea along with N’Golo Kante in the middle of the pitch, winning the championship for Chelsea the year before and all of a sudden you’ve sold him to one of, or the biggest rival we have.
As well as his impressive early season form, Matic brings a wealth of experience with him to Old Trafford, something that was slowly disappearing in the Old Trafford dressing room, with so many players leaving since the retirement of legendary club manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
One of the major aspects that makes him so vital to United is his long spanning experience, and he is only one of the few players at Old Trafford currently to have won a Premier League title, which in itself brings a winning mentality to the camp.
Matic is a typical ‘number six’ – his main duties on the pitch is to protect and screen the back four and help sniff out attacks from the opposition.
The last time United fans saw this type of midfielder in a red shirt especially in recent times was when Michael Carrick was at his peak.
Manchester United’s attackers have certainly benefitted from the Serbian’s arrival, with a notable diversity to ‘the Red Devils’ goal scoring exploits compared to last season where asides from Zlatan Ibrahimović and the odd strike from Juan Mata the goals were not shared around the team.
Record signing Paul Pogba is certainly benefitting greatly from the arrival of Nemanja Matic as it allows him to play his natural game, bombarding forward menacingly allows Pogba to be very effective as a box to box midfielder, one the whole team can benefit from.
When you have the pivot in Matic sitting in front of the back four, with the natural game intelligence he possesses, it allows other players to attack with more freedom knowing Matic will be there to sniff out any potential threat of a counter attack.
As well as doing tremendously on the pitch, Jose Mourinho has managed him remarkably well and highly appreciates what he does on the pitch for the team, shortly after signing the Serbian, Mourinho stated:
Nemanja is a Manchester United player and a Jose Mourinho player. He represents everything we want in a footballer; loyalty, consistency, ambition, team player.
The Portuguese manager has an inner circle of people he trusts. He values loyalty in his ranks more than most, the primary example being Rui Faria, his assistant since his time at FC Porto.
If his beloved right-hand man can keep on improving and managing Matic effectively like he has done so tremendously so far this season and help him rediscover that impressive form he hit during the 2014/15 season, Manchester United could well soon be a force to be reckoned with.